I never knew what that phrase “inspiration strikes” actually meant. Until recently, inspiration was really more perspiration for me. I’d decide to start a project and then I’d think through options until I planned what I wanted to do. I might start with a piece of fabric or a block design and go from there and I thought that I was “inspired” by the fabric. I have since come to realize that working on a design that grew out of something else wasn’t inspiration at all. Inspiration is a design that grows out of nothing at all, that comes flitting into one’s imagination unbidden.
Having this experience of inspiration, these moments when inspiration does truly strike has been one of the unexpected outcomes of my creativity journey and my experiments with creative play. As I have started to play more with no goal in mind, to experiment more, to try different media and generally just open myself up more to chance, I have had more and more moments of true inspiration. These moments are truly awesome, as in creating awe.
My first experience with true inspiration came over a year ago. I was merrily sewing along, minding my own business, but I was thinking of the Orlando shooting that had just happened that week. Then, in the midst of those thoughts, I thought about making a quilt and the idea for my “Victims” quilt began to form. I negotiated with the source of the inspiration for a bit like a petulant child. “Oh no,” I said. “I’m busy. I don’t want to take this on. This is a big project. This is a difficult project. No way.” I didn’t get a response. But, having read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, I realized that if I didn’t take up the project, the inspiration would leave me and move on to someone else so I sighed and said, “Fine. I’ll do it.” Then, I grabbed a pencil and a sheet of paper and sketched out the whole design in a few minutes.
Since that time, inspiration has struck more and more often and I have gotten better about accepting it. I now skip the step of complaining and go right to grabbing a pencil. In truth, however, the pencil is totally unnecessary. These ideas that come dropping into my mind when I least expect it are also tenacious buggers. Many times, they just stay there lodged in my brain poking at me until I get to work. The good thing is that once I do start work, these inspired projects have come together amazingly quickly with nary a broken needle. (Again, awesome.) The best part of all of this? The works that I have created from these strikes of inspiration have been the most powerful, most meaningful pieces that I have ever done. They come right out of my soul and when I see them finished I am truly amazed.
This issue marks the one year anniversary of this newsletter. When I created my communication plan, I was going to use the issue to reflect on the past year and to try and pull together a summary. Instead, I find myself looking forward in this moment and not backward. I have decided recently to develop Creative Play™ into something more than this newsletter and I am excited to tell you about those plans.
I am developing Creative Play™ into a full program of creativity talks, courses, and workshops. I’m sending out proposals for Creative Play™ workshops at conferences, developing class plans for 6-8 week live classes and am about to test run a month-long online workshop. I believe that playing in a variety of art media is the best way to become fearlessly creative again and I’m going to be spending my time sharing that message.
One of the first things I am launching is a “30 Days of Creative Play™” online course. Each day for 30 days (plus one intro day), I will send an exercise for play. Each exercise is meant to be short – 15 to 30 minutes, and will involve a variety of different media. You’ll have an assignment so you won’t have to face a blank page but the only goal will be to play without the pressure to produce something useful. There’s no prep required; the prep work is built into the exercises so you can get started right away. Creative play is a great way to loosen up before you start your studio practice. It is a great way to kickstart your creativity if you’re feeling like you’re in a rut. Creative play is also a wonderful way to find a little joy if you’ve been feeling like something’s missing in your life, but you’re not quite sure what. Be a kid again for 15 minutes a day, every day for a month and reconnect with that joy and creativity you felt so effortlessly when you were young.
If you’re interested in participating in my free trial run of “30 Days of Creative Play™,” you’ll find an exercise each day on the Creative Play Date Facebook page starting tomorrow (July 14th). If you would like to receive each exercise in your email box, email me at julie(at)julieneu.com and I will put you on the mailing list.
We have reached the end of Creative Play Date Week. I’ve probably rambled on about it before, but you may wonder why I think play is so important. I think that as we get older (particularly appropriate that I am typing this on my birthday), the process of “growing up” causes us to take on a lot of baggage from society, parents, teachers, etc. and we get too far away from our innate state of curiosity, of questioning, of experimentation. To create art that really comes from our souls, from the core of who we are, we have to get back to curious, questioning, experimenting beings we were as kids and the way to do that is to play again like kids.
For me, I have to go pretty far back because I stopped playing before I was anywhere near the end of childhood. To make it happen, I have to schedule it and set aside the time, but once I am playing, I can rekindle that spirit of childhood and reconnect with my authentic self. It is when I am playing that ideas for work flow out of me and I get excited about creating. It is when I am playing that I begin to create art that I know comes from deep within my soul, work that is truly and uniquely my own. It is through play that the serious work of being an artist begins.
Today, I made dots. A friend and I have experimented with Creative Play exercises of painted dots. She made some great ones on fabric and turned them into journal covers. I loved what she did so I made some dots of my own on fabric today:
I think that the Universe is contriving to make my Creative Play Date Week both as challenging as possible and as rewarding as possible. It’s challenging because my life this week has been busy. By early afternoon Wednesday, I’d already worked as many consulting hours as I normally do in a week. Plus, I had more family obligations than normal, including an overnight trip to the other end of the state and back. Finding the time for Creative Play this week has been a real challenge and I think that I am supposed to have the experience of having to make the time when life is as busy as it gets.
Maybe because the rest of my life is so busy, I am finding the Creative Play time to be so rewarding. Today, I completely lost myself in painting. I wasn’t using any special materials, just my daughter’s nearly-dried poster paints and cheap brush, but I was getting such pleasure from the process of painting that I lost all track of time. And that does more for my blood pressure than 20 minutes of meditation.
Here’s today’s project. I took the page layout from the June 15, 2017 front page of The New York Times and painted blocks of color. Could be a quilt, don’t you think?
Today’s Creative Play was quick, so quick that I decided to do some doodling after I finished my project for the day and doodled a design that would look nice on a quilt.
For my project today, I pulled out the deck of Creative Strength Training Prompt Cards I just bought from Jane Dunnewold and pulled a card. The action was to use an emotion as inspiration. I have paintings hanging on my studio wall for “love” and “grief” so I chose “anger,” which was why the painting came so fast. Anger was easy for me to tap into this week and the image I wanted to paint came pretty quickly to mind. As you can see, slashing paint onto paper didn’t take that long either. I am happy to report that it was therapeutic.
Day 1 of Creative Play Date Week was an exercise in finding the time and a good reminder of the benefits of just 15 minutes of play.
Monday was busy, really busy. We got our kid off to her first day of camp and then I commuted into Boston for a full day in the office. I raced home, picked my daughter up, did more work while boiling pasta for dinner, got my kid in the tub and ready for bed, then did two more hours of work before I finally crawled in bed myself. Reading that, you may wonder when I did my Creative Play or if I decided that I was just too busy and bailed on it. I seriously considered it. It’s always really easy for me to justify not allowing time for my creativity because I have work to do and the dangerous thing about that is that there is ALWAYS work to do.
But, you may remember me saying that if you have a kid like mine who takes a while to get ready for bed, you can squeeze in 15 minutes there. That’s exactly what I did. I got her in the tub (She is old enough to not drown so I can leave her alone in the bathroom, though I did come back to shut off the water before she started a flood.), then I went into my studio to find something to play with for 15 minutes. I didn’t create amazing art, but I did sit down for 20 minutes of coloring in a coloring book. I know, hardly stretching my creativity, but it calmed my mind for a few minutes, revived me a bit because I was making myself a priority and even 20 minutes of that was invaluable on a frustrating day of doing things for other people. I know that I will have many more days like that so I think that I will leave the coloring book out and keep the markers handy.
Here’s what I did in 20 minutes. It’s from “Big Blossoms Coloring Collection” by Angela Van Dam.
I’ve talked a lot about 15 minutes of play time each day. I even wrote about it in my last newsletter, which was when I realized that I am not practicing what I preach. I’ve been spending a few hours working in my studio each day, but playing? Nope, I’ve just been hard at work on my projects. I’ve decided that I need to do something about that so I am designating the week of June 19th, Creative Play Date WEEK. I’m going to do my 15 minutes of play every day. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you join me, I’d love to hear how it goes for you!
I’ve seen the recommendation in a couple of sources to spend at least 15 minutes a day in your creative work. It’s a great idea. Fifteen minutes a day is enough to keep your creative pump primed and enough to feed your soul on a daily basis. But, even 15 minutes a day can seem really daunting if it first requires clearing off the dining room table and pulling out all of your supplies in order to get to work. We may not all be able to have a room of our own for our creative work, but having a least a corner or a small surface is absolutely necessary.
We all need a spot where we can sit down and do our creative work and on days when 15 minutes is all we really have, it’s important to be able to sit down and get right to work. If even that time seems like a struggle at the moment, think about where you might find 15 minutes a day. Would you have 15 minutes while something simmers on the stove as you cook dinner? Look around for a spot near the kitchen that could become your space. Do you have one of those bill paying desks in the kitchen? Ever paid bills there? No one else has either; make it your creative space.
Does it take your child 15 minutes to get her pajamas on and teeth brushed before bed? (Mine takes at least that long!) Is there a closet near the bedrooms that could be emptied and turned into a creativity closet? I am lucky enough to have a room of my own (having decided not to have a guest room in my house in order to have a studio – sorry, Mom!), but I still turned my closet into a work space. I hung closet organizers and a standing height desk and I use the space for all non-quilting related art, painting, paper crafts, etc. (and some junk too as you can see below).
I rescheduled my Creative Play Date to last Friday and had a wonderful day. I met a friend at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to tour the Matisse in the Studio exhibit. We also stumbled upon an exhibit of politically-motivated art, which was particularly appropriate since she is one of the curators of the Threads of Resistance exhibit being developed by SAQA. We toured the bookstores, where I had a heavy shopping day and then had to lug home three beefy books, and we enjoyed a lovely lunch in the cafe. I should do that more often.
The Matisse in the Studio show was wonderful. It was such a treat to see objects from his studio next to the works he created from them. I, of course, loved seeing the Islamic textiles from his collection.
North African window screen, 19th – early 20th centuries; Matisse in the Studio Exhibit, Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Here are my key takeaways from the exhibit and from Matisse’s work in general:
- Matisse used the same objects as subjects repeatedly. This is a strength of the exhibit, being able to see the chocolate pot or vase itself next to several paintings that include the same pot. Such positioning makes clear just how often Matisse went back to the same objects for inspiration, but with very different results.
- Matisse experimented with different styles. The work that I consider to be his signature style only made up a small portion of the works exhibited. I was particularly struck by two roughly-contemporaneous paintings. One was dark and more realistic and the other colorful and more abstract. And in fact, the more colorful, more abstract one that is in more of what I recognize as Matisse’s style was made four years earlier than the other. The pursuit of one’s voice as an artist can still include experimenting with different styles.
- Matisse continued to experiment and evolve as an artist until the very end of his life. One of the things that I find so inspirational about Matisse is how he continued to create art in old age when he was no longer able to paint like he used to. The paper cutouts of Matisse’s later years are some of my favorite works of his and they only came about because painting was no longer an option for him. Rather than retiring, he found a new medium and continued to create incredible art; I hope to be able to do the same.
The Creative Play Date last week didn’t happen for me for a variety of reasons, but I rescheduled and am off to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston today for the Matisse in the Studio exhibit.